Minimum energy and fractal structures of drainage networks Academic Article uri icon


  • This paper explores the similarities of digital elevation maps (DEMs) of natural river basins and optimal channel network (OCN) configurations obtained minimizing the total rate of energy expenditure in the system as a whole and in its parts. Striking similarities are observed for natural and optimal networks in their fractal aggregation structure and in certain multifractal structures found to be characteristic of river basins. Our results suggest, upon critical assessment of the reliability of the identification of the attractor of the underlying dynamics implied by our optimality concepts, that fractal structures are indeed possibly a product of least energy dissipation. Power laws emerging in the description of the distribution of aggregated quantities from both DEMs and OCNs suggest a link with the framework of selforganized criticality in the dynamics of natural channel network formation. Also, the geomorphological description of OCNs reveals surprising analogies with wellknown empirical or experimental results, A comparison of Peano's basins with OCNs suggests that nature seems to reject the type of strict selfsimilarity exhibited by Peano's construct in favor of different shapes implying statistical selfsimilarity not only because of chance acting through random conditions but also because of necessity as reflected by least energy expenditure considerations. Copyright 1992 by the American Geophysical Union.

published proceedings

  • Water Resources Research

author list (cited authors)

  • Rinaldo, A., RodriguezIturbe, I., Rigon, R., Bras, R. L., IjjaszVasquez, E., & Marani, A.

citation count

  • 213

complete list of authors

  • Rinaldo, Andrea||Rodriguez‐Iturbe, Ignacio||Rigon, Riccardo||Bras, Rafael L||Ijjasz‐Vasquez, Ede||Marani, Alessandro

publication date

  • September 1992